Phonec and the VHS Sound


I’ve recently released my latest VST synth, Phonec, which has a certain character that can be sometimes hard to explain. So here I’ll try to expand on the ideas that led to the creation of this strange little synthesizer. The idea is based on the sound of an obscure electronic instrument from the past which has been overdubbed a few times on a VHS tape and then played back a decade or two later after sitting in an attic, forgotten about for years. It’s a sound I remember hearing as a kid sometimes right at the beginning of a video tape. In some cases it would be the weird sounds that accompany the logo of the film company. Fortunately we can find several examples of these on youtube. Here are a few:

Outdated educational videos provide another source of this strange magic:

I like the eerie quality of these sounds. When a tape is recorded over a few times it can give the perception of being melted or smeared, especially at the beginning of a recording. And if too far gone, the sound can start to get lost.

I created Phonec to emulate this effect, and I believe it mimics this effect just enough to provide a window into this strange world. The real thing however, can never be recreated digitally, so of course I still have a great interest in using a VCR as a tape recorder for further experimentation. But it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. In order to do this, you need a VCR that allows separate audio inputs that aren’t linked to the video input. A lot of standard VCRs require a video signal in order to record audio, but there are some out there, probably older Sonys, that have the ability to function as a tape recorder. I haven’t come across one yet, but given the unconventional nature of this interest of mine, and the fact that most people probably see absolutely no value in these relics, I’m hoping to discover one at a thrift store eventually.

8 comments on “Phonec and the VHS Sound

  1. old phillips VCRs are really good for what you are describing. i also really love this aesthetics..or you can get broadcast production vcrs like JVC etc.

  2. Hello! Just checked out your vsts, and jumped over here. I really dig the Idea behind that slight yellowed instamatic 70’s atmosphere. The strange otherworldliness that comes from using magnetic media to capture then broadcast imagery, I had never really thought about, but there is something slightly disturbing about viewing the images from then. on my last album, I put together a sound collage/song of stuff I found on an old Magnavox cassette, my voice as a kid, on an old mono tape-deck, my uncle, and his wife singing a song in Korean, and sounds from old tv shows and commercials my uncle who committed suicide in 1979 had recorded, really random stuff. Good eye/ear/sensory reception and attempt at emulating something that is very abstract. Cheers! Keep it up man.

  3. I love the concept and sound of your synth. Wonderful, very Boards of Canada/Bibio. As for recording to VHS, look for “vhs, audio dub” on ebay and you should find what you’re looking for. I love the idea that as you re-use the video tape you’ll get more and more deterioration.

  4. p.s. I had to laugh at the irony of this: “The demo version has the limitation of occasional sound dropouts.” Surely that’s a bonus feature?

  5. Just found your site through Bedroom Producers Blog. Incredible. I, too, have an interest in VCR’s. I won’t throw my wifes old VCR out in hopes that I’ll dump vocals onto tape and bring them back into the computer. Hasn’t happened yet 🙂 In any case, I’m loving your site, your plugs look dope, and I just downloaded “Interpretations” to listen on the way to work. Good stuff man, I look fwd to more posts!

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